It’s hard to believe that we’re nearly at the halfway point of the 2017-18 NHL season. As I type this, the Vegas Golden Knights are sitting alone at the top of the Western Conference, with 50 points from 35 games played. The New Jersey Devils can’t stop winning (yuck), the LA Kings are back, and the Arizona Coyotes and Buffalo Sabres appear to be locked in a battle for the #1 pick in next year’s draft. It’s been a strange year so far, to say the least.
The same holds true for our beloved Rangers. Panic set in quickly in October, the ship was steadied somewhat in November, and December has been largely mediocre, but could have been much worse if not for guys named Lundqvist and Pavelec. Here, in no particular order, are some thoughts on the Rangers, and the NHL as a whole.
- It was just announced that Chris Kreider was diagnosed with a blood clot in his right arm, and will be out indefinitely. This is a scary, serious medical issue (an untreated clot can lead to a stroke or a heart attack) and Kreider will need to make sure the clot is taken care of entirely before he resumes any hockey-related activity. The estimate as of now is that he will miss 6-8 weeks. More on that below.
- About last night… the Rangers played a really solid game. As Dave mentioned in his recap, the process was much improved, especially in terms of zone exits and entries (which really are the key to playing cohesive hockey). The results were there as well, if not in terms of goals. The Rangers generated 18 high danger scoring chances to Washington’s 9. If not for Philipp Grubauer’s acrobatics, the Rangers would’ve won the game handily in regulation.
- I attended both last night’s game, as well as the pre-holiday break match with Toronto. My “eye test” certainly confirms the last point, but I also noticed that Washington played a much more passive game than the Leafs. As soon as the Rangers got possession of the puck, the Caps’ defensemen backed off, a stark contrast to the high pressure and speed game of the Leafs, which gave the Rangers fits. Washington is not what they once were, despite the skill on their top two lines.
- So, about those lines and defense pairs. Sure, they worked out last night, though the Kreider injury forced AV to promote Pavel Buchnevich from his (ridiculous) fourth line role. But the idea that “the coach pushed all the right buttons” (which is the narrative that beat writers pushed today) is patently absurd. Let’s see if the success is sustainable. Side note: although the Ryan McDonagh-Nick Holden pairing had a strong game, Nick Holden is not a top-pair defenseman. That said, I thought the other two pairs were solid (shout out to Marc Staal and Brady Skjei for rocking a 69 CF% together while seeing heavy deployment in the defensive zone).
- Kevin Shattenkirk was noticeably good last night, and he seemed to work well with Brendan Smith, whose game is steadily improving.
- With Chris Kreider out until March, the Rangers are in an interesting situation. Vinni Lettieri is going to get the first crack at filling the 12th forward spot, but he’ll likely be bumped from the lineup when Jesper Fast returns. Also, while Lettieri has offensive upside, he probably won’t be asked to fill the top six role vacated by Kreider. The Rangers will certainly be exploring the trade market as the deadline approaches, but might Filip Chytil get a crack? He’s off to a flying start at the World Junior Championships for the Czech Republic; ditto Lias Andersson, who’s captaining Team Sweden.
- The Winter Classic is fast approaching, meaning now is a great time to go through some YouTube clips of the Rangers three previous outdoor games (four, if you count the 1991 preseason game against the Kings in Las Vegas). My favorite? Embarrassing the Devils and Martin Brodeur in 2014.
- Speaking of the Classic, I really miss HBO’s 24/7 series in the lead-up to the NHL’s showpiece event. The NHL-produced, watered down version that airs on NBCSN truly pales in comparison. Also, given that each episode is 30 minutes long with commercials, our beloved Rangers only get roughly 12 minutes of screen time.
- Here are my halfway point playoff predictions:
- East: CBJ, NJ, NYR, NYI, PIT, TB, BOS, TOR
- West: NSH, WPG, STL, CHI, LA, SJ, DAL, VGK
- Seriously, the Golden Knights are in first place?
That’s all from me. Have a great New Year, folks.
"Kreider's Blood Clot, About Last Night, and Other Holiday Musings",